By now you’ve probably heard the news that actor Nicolas Cage is giving back to the nation of Mongolia a stolen Tyrannosaurus bataar skull he bought at an auction in 2007. It’s the latest shoe to drop after a notorious broker, Eric Prokopi, pleaded guilty in 2012 to illegally importing fossils from Mongolia and China.
What you probably don’t know is that the guy who sold Cage the hot Prokopi skull was Isadore M. Chait, an OT 8 Scientologist who has participated in the church’s notorious “Fair Game” retaliation schemes. We have some fun video of Chait for you to consider in a moment. But besides being an ardent, high-ranking Scientologist, Izzy Chait is also a renowned Beverly Hills art dealer, specializing in Asian art, who several years ago also began carrying dinosaur fossils and other natural history items. (At his bio posted at his website, you can see what an impressive guy he is. Somehow, however, he left out of it that he’s a master of matter, energy, space, and time as a Scientology Operating Thetan Level Eight.)
About the sale of the skull, let’s establish some facts, because we’re seeing some bad information about it in news reports. The auction was held on March 25, 2007 and was Chait’s first ever held in New York City, simulcast to his gallery in Beverly Hills.
Here’s how Chait listed it:
AN EXTREMELY RARE TYRANNOSAURID SKULL: Tyrannosaurus bataar, Late Cretaceous (67 million years), Nemegt Formation, Central Asia. Tyrannosaurus bataar is the closest dinosaur relative to the North American King of Dinosaurs, Tyrannosaurus-rex though it thrived on the Eurasian Continent approximately 2 million years earlier. Many similarities exist between the two Tyrannosaurus’ species though Tyrannosaurus bataar was slightly smaller with shorter arms and a few minor differences in the skull. The present specimen is quite large for the species measuring 32 inches in length and has been professionally prepared in three-dimension with all of its natural matrix removed. It is approximately 65 percent complete with most of the restoration being on the back of the skull and the right mandible (lower jaw). The battery of huge, knife-like, serrated teeth are quite impressive and are in excellent condition, though some on the lower right jaw have been replaced. Overall, this remarkable specimen is scientifically accurate and important to our understanding of how tyrannosaurids lived. Estimate $140-180
That was a cute price estimate for the catalogue. Bidding actually started at $100,000.
Cage ended up battling with fellow actor Leonardo DiCaprio over the specimen before finally landing it at $276,000.
And note where Chait claimed the skull was from: “Central Asia.” As this lengthy profile of Prokopi by Paige Williams in the New Yorker explains, that’s how dealers often describe items from Mongolia and China, knowing that it’s illegal to sell fossils from those countries. But the Chait gallery clearly knew where it was actually from — the Nemegt Formation, which is in Mongolia.
Chait’s then-director of natural history sales, David Herskowitz, has admitted that the skull came from Prokopi. After Prokopi pleaded guilty to illegal importing, he was sentenced to three months in federal prison.
As a cute aside, the Williams profile of Prokopi says that the fossil hunter and his wife were so thrilled over the sale to Cage, their celebration that night resulted in, nine months later, a son.
So Cage is giving the skull back, and according to Reuters, Cage and Chait are not facing charges of any kind, even though, Reuters pointed out, Chait had previously purchased and sold a stolen Prokopi dinosaur skeleton.
What, a Scientologist involved in the buying and selling of stolen goods? Say it isn’t so. Scientologists claim to be the most ethical people on the planet.
Chait is also known for being one of the most loyal Scientologists in the Los Angeles area. And in 2011, he helped the church out with one of its operations to ambush Mark “Marty” Rathbun at the Los Angeles International Airport. (Yes, it’s happened more than once.)
At the time, Rathbun was visiting Los Angeles in June after he’d spent a couple of months being besieged in his south Texas home by a bizarre Scientology goon squad that called itself the “Squirrel Busters.” (For a great overview of Rathbun and the siege, we recommend the Channel 4 documentary “Scientologists at War.” And yes, we’re in it.) Rathbun had once been the second-highest ranking official in Scientology until his 2004 defection. He’d then disappeared before resurfacing in 2009 with a blog that was highly critical of Scientology leader David Miscavige. In retaliation, Scientology unleashed a classic “Fair Game” campaign — founder L. Ron Hubbard had declared in the 1960s that people perceived to be enemies of Scientology were fair game for harassment and worse. (In 2013, Rathbun’s wife, Monique, filed a lawsuit against the church for the harassment. It’s being held up by church appeals of a preliminary order.)
On June 3, 2011, right out of its decades-old playbook, Scientology sent an intimidation squad to ambush Rathbun at LAX, having figured out, with the use of private investigators, when he was flying back to Texas. The welcome committee who showed up to question and film Rathbun and his wife Monique included chief Scientology dirty tricks private eye Dave Lubow, Freedom magazine reporter Jim Lynch (now deceased), Squirrel Busters John Allender and Richard Hirst, and Izzy Chait and his wife Mary Ann. With the Rathbuns is former Scientologist Tiziano Lugli.
In the LAX confrontation, Chait confronts Rathbun about why he has gone “independent,” and has left the church.
“Why do you have to separate yourself out from it? Is that something LRH would want you to do?” he asks, referring to Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard. He also tries to convince Rathbun that Scientology was expanding at its greatest rate ever. (All indications are that it is actually rapidly shrinking.) Take a look at Chait’s performance in this video that was shot by Rathbun.
Rathbun: Do you think this is really cool?
Chait: Who cares? Who cares, it’s all fucking bullshit. It’s all bullshit. The bottom line is just, where are you going? The church is expanding like crazy…
Rathbun: I’m going to Texas, as you all well know.
Chait: OK. What are you going to do there? [smiles]
Rathbun: Why do you care?
Chait: I always care. You used to be a close friend.
Rathbun: Yeah, I know. But you’re working for the devil now.
“You are gonna continue to carry fleas as long as you sleep with unkempt dogs,” Rathbun said to the Chaits in a blog post after the confrontation.
Would you buy a used dinosaur skull from this man?
Scientology’s 2015 in review: In February, a shocking case of mistreatment
We’re continuing to look back at the stories that mattered most here at the Underground Bunker this year, remembering in this post what happened in February. And on the second day of that month, we hit you with a piece that still, for us, packs quite a wallop.
We had learned about a woman — we named her Candace for our story — who was rescued from an Arkansas basement, where she had been held for about a year. She was filthy, malnourished, and she was bleeding profusely in an apparent suicide attempt.
But the man who had held her there — with evidence that he’d kept her bound by the wrists — calmly explained to an attorney that what he was doing was standard Scientology treatment for the woman’s severe mental illness.
Before he had taken her to the Arkansas basement, the man had “cared” for Candace at a Scientology-style retreat in Tennessee that we had previously encountered in the story of Barbara Cordova Oliver (Barbara is doing better now, but we’ve been asked to hold back details for the time being).
The stories of Barbara and Candace are recent evidence that Scientologists continue to subject the mentally ill to L. Ron Hubbard’s completely unscientific theories about treatment, endangering people at the same time that Scientology demonizes the real help such people might receive from the medical community.
In April, we got an update on Candace from a family member, which we’re printing here for the first time. Candace was still deeply unwell and living at a state hospital, which the family member criticized — she hoped to get Candace moved to a private facility.
[Candace] told us today that after [Jim] took her to Arkansas from the Scientology center in Tennessee, he and his cousin tied her up, put duct tape over her mouth and put her in the bed of the truck. She said she thought she was going to be killed. Then she said the cousin had second thoughts. She also said [Jim] dragged her down the stairs to the basement by her hair and hit her in the face. She tried to escape several times — twice from Woodbury and at least two times from Arkansas. It’s horrible. She says God was with her through it, talking to her, helping her, telling them to stop. She said that [Jim] is Lucifer. She thinks her soul is in a Powerade bottle in [Jim]’s house. She told us today how [in Tennesssee] they made her sit for hours in an excruciating hot sauna.
We’ve asked the family member for another update, and we’ll let you know what she tells us.
Moving on in our review, we had fun on February 7 with a 1958 letter by L. Ron Hubbard brought to our attention by Lauren Wolf. In it, Hubbard proposed forming a university in Cuba for scientists who had been cast out during the McCarthyite pogroms. “The president of Cuba is being approached to set aside land, several people will provide funds. An international university could be built which has many sources of revenue and in which a scientist could spend more than half his time on pure research…” Hubbard wrote to one of the country’s top scientists. Hubbard didn’t mention, of course, that he’d done plenty of his own Red-baiting over the years, or that he hardly qualified as an outcast nuclear physicist, having failed the only course of “molecular and atomic physics” he had taken during his abortive semester and a half of college. Fun stuff.
On February 9, we revealed that Mark Ebner had done it again. Previously, he had stumbled across some discarded Scientology trophies thrown out by Gay Ribisi, of the famous Hollywood family. This time, he’d found another pile of trash — what was left behind after Clark Carr and Narconon International suddenly abandoned its Hollywood office. Bizarre!
The next day, we brought you the deposition of Mike Rinder, done for the Luis and Rocio Garcia federal fraud lawsuit. It was the first time Rinder, the former Scientology spokesman who defected in 2007, had been questioned under oath by a Scientology attorney. And it was dramatic.
On February 12, we fact-checked the interview Danny Masterson gave Paper magazine, and invited the actor to drop us a line so we could ask him some real questions.
A week later, we found out that HBO had moved the first airing of Going Clear to a Sunday night, the most coveted spot in American television. After the Sundance premiere, it was becoming obvious that this film was going to be a blockbuster.
And late in the month we had another great R.M. Seibert document find, as we revealed for the first time just what crappy grades L. Ron Hubbard got in high school!
A LOOK BACK AT FEBRUARY 2014: The Master actor Philip Seymour Hoffman died in New York, we wrote an essay complaining about the way the media talks about Scientology and celebrities, and we provided some context to the first official Scientology wedding in England.
BEST OF 2015: Our personal picks for stories we’re most glad we got to write this year:
We didn’t get a chance to include photos in our book, so we’ve posted them at a dedicated page. Reader Sookie put together a complete index and we’re hosting it here on the website. Copies of the paperback version of ‘The Unbreakable Miss Lovely’ are on sale at Amazon. The Kindle edition is also available, and shipping instantly.
Our book tour is concluded for now. (But you can re-experience it through this nifty interactive map!) We’ll let you know about future appearances. Previous events: Santa Barbara (5/16), Hollywood (5/17), Orange County (5/17), San Diego (5/20), San Francisco (5/22), New York (6/11), Chicago (6/20), Toronto (6/22), Clearwater (6/28), Washington DC (7/12), Hartford (7/14), Denver (7/17), Dallas (7/20), Houston (7/22), San Antonio (7/24), Austin (7/25), Paris (7/29), London (8/4), Boston (8/24), Phoenix (9/15), Cleveland (9/23), Minneapolis (9/24), Portland (9/27), Seattle (9/28), Vancouver BC (9/29), Sydney (10/23), Melbourne (10/25), Adelaide (10/28), Perth (10/30)
Posted by Tony Ortega on December 22, 2015 at 07:00
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Learn about Scientology with our numerous series with experts…
BLOGGING DIANETICS: We read Scientology’s founding text cover to cover with the help of LA attorney and former church member Vance Woodward
UP THE BRIDGE: Claire Headley and Bruce Hines train us as Scientologists
GETTING OUR ETHICS IN: Jefferson Hawkins explains Scientology’s system of justice
SCIENTOLOGY MYTHBUSTING: Historian Jon Atack discusses key Scientology concepts
PZ Myers reads L. Ron Hubbard’s “A History of Man” | Scientology’s Master Spies | Scientology’s Private Dancer
The mystery of the richest Scientologist and his wayward sons | Scientology’s shocking mistreatment of the mentally ill
The Underground Bunker’s Official Theme Song | The Underground Bunker FAQ
Our Guide to Alex Gibney’s film ‘Going Clear,’ and our pages about its principal figures…
Jason Beghe | Tom DeVocht | Sara Goldberg | Paul Haggis | Mark “Marty” Rathbun | Mike Rinder | Spanky Taylor | Hana Whitfield